2655Published on March 16, 2020
The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to a freshly liberated and sovereign Bangladesh 47 years ago today, on January 10, 1972, after spending nine and a half months in a Pakistani jail.
Bangabandhu had been captured by Pakistani forces on the night of March 25, 1971 at the onset of Operation Searchlight in an attempt to decapitate Bangladesh’s struggle for independence. But Sheikh Mujib’s foresight to delegate duties to his trusted deputies and faith in the people ensured they would not only wage one of the most fierce wars for independence, but also ensure victory.
Even when Bangabandhu was imprisoned in Pakistan, the military regime feared to execute him out of sheer terror of what zeal his death might inspire among the fighting Bangalis. When reigning dictator President Yahya Khan issued an order to execute Sheikh Mujib, the jailer of his prison refused to carry it out, instead opting to hide the charismatic leader and issuing false orders.
After Bangabandhu was released on January 8, he wanted to fly back to Dhaka immediately. But as Pakistani aircraft were banned in Indian airspace, Pakistan President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto recommended he fly to Tehran or another neutral location. Sheikh Mujib elected to fly to London, where he address world media in a sensational meet-and-greet at the Claridge’s hotel.
As the special aircraft carrying Bangabandhu took off from Rawalpindi in the deepening night, Bhutto said to no one in particular, “The nightingale has flown.”
Bangabandhu's first words to the media were but part-and-parcel of his immeasurable charm: “Gentlemen, as you can see, I am alive and well.” His words, when aired on BBC and BBC Bengali Services and reached the radio sets of the millions yearning to hear of his well-being, led to outbursts of joy and grateful prayers across the nation.
Edward Heath, the incumbent British prime minister, who was travelling, returned to greet the leader of the newly liberated country. While the United Kingdom could not recognize Bangladesh as an independent country out of concern for Bhutto and a fragile Pakistan, Heath’s sincerity and modesty in addressing Sheikh Mujib spoke volumes as to how highly Bangabandhu was regarded. Harold Wilson, the leader of the opposition, also met with Sheikh Mujib to congratulate him on his freedom from incarceration and liberation of the nation.
After a brief stop at Delhi to thank Indira Gandhi and her country for the assistance throughout the Liberation War, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to a free Dhaka, to millions of restless and ecstatic Bangalis for whom his safe return was tantamount to total victory.
It was 10th of Janury, 1972. Liberty was in the air. A month-old nation, awaitng the return of their leader. Without him, the victory of 16th December was incomplete.
The chant of “Joy Bangla”, in bold voices, reverberated at Tejgaon old airport and its surrounding areas on a chilly afternoon of January 10, 1972.
Minutes after the daybreak, emotion choked tens of thousands of newly freed Bangalees of his Bangladesh gathered there, even after knowing that the Father of the Nation is expected to arrive in the early afternoon.
With bated breath, they were waiting to welcome the liberator back to a land his inspiring leadership had propelled to freedom through a well-fought, tear-filled and blood-soaked struggle of epic proportions.
In the reception line on the tarmac, anxiety and restlessness started gripping all the men who had conducted the struggle for liberation as the war time Mujibnagar government. Eagerness intensified among the young student leaders, whose intense patriotism would always remain as a glaring example of glory for generations to come, converged to gather Bangabandhu to their bosom.
As soon as the comet aircraft bringing Bangabandhu home landed at Tejgaon, something magical happened. The wait for him by the people, which seemed like an eternity had come to an end.
And finally the moment arrived.
Bangabandhu emerged in his new avatar. For him, it was “a journey from the darkness to light”.
Upon arrival, Bangabandhu seemed tired after all those months in solitary confinement in Pakistan. More than that, he was clearly overwhelmed by the ecstatic manner in which his people, the newly freed Bengalis of his Bangladesh, were welcoming him home.
He was leaner than he was when the Pakistan army abducted him and took him to Pakistan in March 1971. His hair was disheveled. With an inimitable smile on his lips, he ran his hand through his hair as it fell over his forehead. There was fatigue written all over him. Yet there was the power in those eyes that held the crowd in its gleam.
He wept. For the first time in his public career, before the world, Bangabandhu shed tears in remembrance of the terrible ravages Bangladesh had gone through in the preceding nine months.
With him, the nation wept too, reflecting how seventy five million Bengalis had worried about his safety, how they had prayed for his life and for him to return home.
The truck bearing Bangabandhu inched its way forward. That brief distance from the airport to the Race Course had turned into human sea. Happy crowds had occupied every bit of space. Every rooftop was an image of delighted faces -- men, women and children. Perching themselves on the branches of trees, youths shared the glory too.
In that winter evening, Bangabandhu spoke to the country for the first time since March 1971. The nation listened to the words coming out from his heart, as they always did. His voice was choked with emotion, but that did little to mar the eloquence of his expression. Again, the nation witnessed Bangabandhu's oratory at its peak of grandeur.